Paul said he was not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). In another place he said that the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). In 2:2 of the same epistle the apostle said that when he first went to the Corinthians he determined to know nothing among them but Christ Jesus and him crucified.
Of course Paul went beyond this basic message in the process of teaching and discipling converts: in fact most of our New Testament theology is found in the Pauline Epistles. But I don’t think it’s a stretch to say everything else Paul wrote and taught was an elaboration of the simple word of the cross.
And think of it–is it not the gospel message that is so hated, maligned, and caricatured by the world? Satan hates Jesus and the message of His death, burial, and resurrection because he knows it is God’s instrument in the hands of believers to bring life to the unregenerate.
When I look back over the years I think of those individuals whose lives have been changed by the gospel. Little nine-year-old Diane, who stood by as I tried to lead her dying father to Jesus and years later met me in a restaurant with her Christian husband and kids to tell me she had been saved that day. Chuck, the deacon I met in a church I visited three years ago, who told me he had trusted Jesus Christ shortly after I had talked with him for two hours on a cold December day in 1978 when he was home for Christmas break from WSU. Or Molly, the widow from Reno, Nevada, who called me on the air when I had a radio show in Albuquerque and was saved through the simple word of Christ. She stayed up all night reading her Bible and then woke me up at five in the morning after she had called the radio station to get my phone number. The next time she was in town to visit her daughter we had her out to the church to give her testimony.
The simple message of Jesus had done what no amount of religion, self-help, and psychobabble could accomplish–it brought them into living union with the God-Man and only mediator between God and man–Christ!
The brings us to the events of the past week. But let me set this up with some context. In 1978 I was 26 years old, fresh out of Bible college, married under two years with one child and another on the way. I was pastoring a little Baptist church near Birch Bay, Washington. Lee and Nita were a couple about five or six years older than us with some small children who attended our Sunday School. I had a casual acquaintance with them through a couple in our church and had gone grouse hunting with Lee and the other guy. Late one night I received a call from Nita, who asked if I could come over because Lee was upset and ready to walk out on her. When I arrived they informed me their marriage was on the rocks. I can’t even remember what the specific problems were.
Here I was a young man with little experience as a husband and father. I had never taken a single counseling or psychology class, and was as yet unaware of such timeless and powerful truths as men are from Mars and women are from Venus, etc. All I knew was that we are all sinners and sin is the root of every human problem. I shared the gospel with Lee and Nita that night and they both trusted Jesus. I went over to the home for a few weeks and did follow up studies. They started attending church, were baptized, and went through all the necessary hoops to join the church. You cannot imagine my joy at this living example of the power of God’s word in action.
My joy was doused at the business meeting at which Lee and Nita were to be accepted into the membership. The first item on the agenda was the need for a new church vacuum cleaner. One deacon was convinced we needed to purchase a Hoover, while another was a staunch Kirby man. Things escalated into an ugly shouting match that went on for several minutes and resulted in Lee and Nita walking out. Later Lee told me that if that was how Christians in churches act then he couldn’t see any sense in being part of a church. Sadly, I couldn’t really argue with him. I saw Lee a few times after that, and we eventually lost touch with one another. Still, my memory of him was a fond one because he was such a nice guy–a real regular guy you could hang out with and be yourself, a guy you could BS with or talk serious. I always believed that he and Nita had genuinely trusted Jesus as their Lord and Savior on that night so many years earlier.
So last week I had a happy blast from the past. Last Sunday night I got a call from Lee, now retired and living in Kentucky. I was not home to receive the call, and the next morning I had received two calls from Lee already. Finally Lee reached me and dispelled any worries I had about this being bad news. I could hear Nita coaching Lee in the background as he told me an amazing story.
Lee had been contemplating retirement for some time after 45 years as a technician in the telephone industry. He had been thinking much lately about his relationship with God, and he was at that point in life where he wanted God to demonstrate His reality and presence. So one night Lee was finishing a very long day working alone on what should have been a two man job. Tired and a bit careless he needed to connect a couple really heavy wires carrying 800 amps of current. He couldn’t find his special insulated pliers normally used on such applications and grabbed a set of metal-handle pliers. The result was a light show that left the wiring in the facility fried and two nearby power transformers blown. On the floor was a melted pair of pliers and Lee standing there with a blackened hand–completely unharmed!
Lee knew it was time to not only retire, but to get right with the Lord. He called to tell me the story as well as tell me they were plugged into a little church there in rural Kentucky, and Lee is assisting in the building of a new addition to the existing church. I called Lee back later that evening to talk more and the excitement in his voice was unmistakable. We reminisced about how he and Nita had trusted Jesus some 34 years earlier, and How to the Lord 34 years is not even the blink of an eye. I was honored to think Lee thought enough of me and our friendship to call me with such great news.
No, I am not going to give up on studying theology. But with the time remaining for me on this earth I plan to get back to the basics of the gospel. People are lost without Jesus, and all the humanistic self-help, psychobabble, and feel-good jargon will never replace the good old-fashioned word of the cross. The grass withers and the flower fades; but the word of our God stands forever